Elisha is an Old Testament prophet who lived in the 9th century B.C., a disciple and successor of the Prophet Elijah. The name “Elisha” means “God is salvation” or “God saves.” Details about the life of Elisha are contained in the 1st and 2nd Books of Kings. His activity, described in the Bible, took place during the reign of Israel kings Ahaba, Ahaziah, Joram, Jehu, Jehoahaz and Joash.
Elisha was probably born in Abel-Meholah. The prophet Elijah found him and “passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him” (1 Kings 19: 19). Elisha “arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him” (1 Kings 19: 21). Before the ascension, the prophet Elijah told Elisha “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me” (2 Kings, 9). After having seen Elijah being taken up to heaven, Elisha was passed a wondeworking gift through the mantle of Elijah. The life of Elisha was accompanied by many miracles and prophesies.
The iconography of Elisha is based on the Biblical narratives about him (2 Kings 2: 1–25; 4: 1–41; 6: 1–33; 7: 1–20; 8: 7–14; 13: 14–20). The Christian art preserved many images of Elisha, both his single images and as part of other compositions, mostly relating to the prophet Elijah (The Fiery Ascent of the Prophet Elijah etc.). The Herminia by Dionysius of Fourna describes Elisha as “young, bold, with a twisted beard”. The Russian iconographic painter’s guides give a more detailed description of Elisha such as the St. Sophia painter’s guide in the 16th century Novgorod redaction: “…надсед, аки Моисей Боговидец, риза багор, испод лазорь, рука правая молебна, в левой свиток, в свитце глаголет: «Рече Иелисей: кого ищете, идете» (во след мене)”. On Russian icons Elisha is depicted with a shorter beard, not divided into locks. The chiton’s color may vary in shades of blue, less often in light-ochre tones.
In the monumental prophet cycle Elisha is normally depicted in pair with Elijah. The icon of Elisha is often included in the prophet’s row of the high iconostasis. One of the earliest examples is the icon of the Prophets Elisha, Zechariah and Joel from the high iconostasis of the Assumption Cathedral of the St. Cyril of Belozersk Monastery (ca. 1497, State Russian Museum). On this icon Elisha is portrayed wearing a dark-brown himation with blue glazing and combing. Elisha’s scroll in all fresco and mosaic cycles always disaplays passages from the Bible inscribed thereon (2 Kings 2: 2; 2: 4; 2: 6; 2: 12). The scenes from Elisha’s life are quite rare. This life cycle that preserved in the St. Elijah Church in Yaroslavl (1680 – 1681) includes the scenes of the meeting between Elisha pasturing his bulls and the prophet Elijah; the anointment of Elisha by Elijah; Elisha crossing the river Jordan with Elijah and alone; the ascension of Elijah; Elisha putting salt into spring water; Elisha cursing the children making fun of him; the blessing of the widow’s ointment; Elisha raises from the dead the Shunnamite’s son; the stories of Naaman and Gehazi.
The feast day of Elisha is celebrated on June 27th (June 14th, the old style) and on the day of the Synaxis of All Saints of Mount Sinai.
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